Skip to main content

Why U.S., Israel should welcome Palestinian move at U.N.

By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Special to CNN
November 29, 2012 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, on November 21.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, on November 21.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rabbi Michael Lerner: Israel cannot achieve security by dominating Palestinians
  • He says the powerful should show more generosity to the relatively powerless
  • Israel, U.S. should support Palestinian move for nonmember state status at the U.N., he says
  • Lerner: Hamas serves Netanyahu's aim of marginalizing the Palestinian Authority

Editor's note: Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun: A Quarterly Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in Berkeley, California. He welcomes feedback: rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

(CNN) -- Israel's security can only be assured when its neighbors believe that it is no longer oppressing the Palestinian people but instead living in peace and harmony with them.

The de facto strategy of past and present Israeli governments of seeking security through domination and by pushing Palestinians out of their homes, or allowing right-wing religious fanatics to create settlements throughout the West Bank to ensure that no Palestinian state could have contiguous parts, has not and cannot work to provide safety for Israel.

Israel's fate and its well-being are intrinsically linked to the well-being of the Palestinian people. It's time for the powerful to show generosity to the relatively powerless.

So those in the U.S. and Israel who want Israel to be secure should welcome the Palestinian Authority's decision to seek observer status as a nonmember state in the United Nations. The authority has agreed to return to negotiations with Israel without conditions once that status has been granted. The goal is creation of a state living in peace with Israel in borders roughly approximating those of the before than 1967 war, with minor border changes mutually agreeable through negotiations.

Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi Michael Lerner

So who opposes this? Hamas, Israel and the U.S.

Opinion: Palestinian move at U.N. won't solve anything

Why Hamas? Because Hamas' strategy is to keep their area so powerless that the Palestinian people will turn away from support for the secular and peace-oriented and nonviolence-committed Palestinian Authority. So the last thing Hamas wants is for the Palestinian Authority to win popular esteem by being seen as having "delivered" a real tangible accomplishment to the Palestinian people in the form of statehood.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



To the extent that even observer status is a step in that direction, powerful elements in Hamas want to undermine it. In fact, Hamas consistently tries to undermine the Palestinian Authority. That explains why it has been so unwilling in the past years to stop its war crimes against Israeli civilians by sending (thankfully, mostly inefficient) missiles toward Sderot and other parts of southern Israel. But even as they fall short of their targets, Hamas manages to create fear and trauma for millions of Israelis.

Why Israel? Because the Likud-Beiteinu dominated government does not want a Palestinian state to emerge that would limit the ability of the Israeli settlers to expand their hold on much of the West Bank. So while they sometimes talk about a two-state solution, they have in mind a tiny state that would not be economically or politically viable.

Its strategy: Insist that it cannot negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority on creation of a state because the authority cannot control Hamas. With that reasoning, they ask how can Israel be expected to work with the authority on terms for a peace treaty that would actually be viable? And then simultaneously, Israel strengthens Hamas in various predictable ways.

Palestinian United Nations bid explained

Palestinians push for U.N. status
Future of Israel, Palestinian Authority
Next steps in Israel-Hamas truce
Abbas slams Israel, seeks status upgrade

Its first move in this direction was to pull out of Gaza militarily without negotiating for the Palestinian Authority to take over control there, de facto leaving Gaza in the hands of Hamas. If the pull-out had been done in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, there would have been no missiles and hence no "proof" that giving up land to the Palestinians would only increase Israeli vulnerability.

To keep any substantial Palestinian state from developing, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed, in the latest Gaza war (whose cease-fire is for the moment holding) to strengthen Hamas. It allowed Hamas to show that it can fight back against Israeli assault in contrast to the Palestinian Authority who, Hamas points out, has gotten nothing in return for the past five years of complete non-violence and security cooperation with the Israeli Army (IDF).

Netanyahu is not stupid, and this is an intended outcome.

The shelling of Israeli sites killed five people. Israeli bombing killed 150 Palestinians. Yet the air raids and missiles aimed at Israel again stimulated the latent post-traumatic stress disorder among Israelis that leads so many to vote for right-wing parties against their own best interests out of fear of the Palestinian people, most of whom would like to live in peace with Israel.

(Palestinians told me when I visited a few weeks ago that the ongoing trauma of the occupation is so present it can't become post-traumatic).

Palestinians again take status case to U.N.

As long as Hamas is seen as the main face of Palestinians, even centrist and left-wing Israelis will support militarism rather than peace compromises.

Why the U.S.? The Obama administration gave a green light to Israel's attack on Gaza, refused to support calls for an immediate cease-fire and has now joined Israel in opposition to upping Palestinian status at the U.N.

The most charitable explanation is the Obama team believes the Netanyahu government will never negotiate a reasonable deal with the Palestinians and so has turned its attention to trying to gaining leverage with Israel to stop it from dragging the U.S. into a war with Iran. And for that, it's willing to ditch the Palestinian Authority, even though it certainly knows that the authority might soon collapse unless it can deliver something real for its people.

In my recent book, "Embracing Israel/Palestine" (North Atlantic Books, 2012), I show that Israel will be safe when it becomes famous not for its power but for its spirit of generosity and open-hearted caring for the Palestinian people.

I've outlined how a Marshall Plan to eliminate poverty in Israel and the surrounding states would totally change the political dynamics and create the preconditions for lasting peace. A similar path would make the U.S. far more popular and far more powerful around the world. But this strategy of generosity will take a major paradigm shift in the consciousness of Americans and Israelis, and for the moment, that seems unlikely. But it's worth fighting for.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Michael Lerner.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT